Launched by the EU Commission, the New European Bauhaus initiative is developing new ways to reduce the carbon and material footprint of housing and construction and to promote well-being of human and nature. During spring 2021, the Commission will gather suggestions, views and ideas on where investment should be directed.
The aim is to create a new European way of life and attractive societies that work in harmony with nature and to bring the European Green Deal into our habitats.
As a partner of the EU's Bauhaus initiative, Aalto University organized an event on 5 May to seek change from existing scalable examples, inspiring visions for the future and the challenges that currently prevent us from acting. The aim is to bring perspectives from different fields on what kind of policies should be abandoned and how Europe can be a pioneer in planning living environments.
Need for multidisciplinary collaboration and radical creativity
Key questions in the project include: Who needs to be involved in decisions concerning the built environment whose impact will last for decades or centuries? Whose voice, in turn, is in danger of not being heard? How is sustainable development taken into account? How can we build smartly so that the result also pleases our senses? What questions should we ask about the future of our planet?
According to Anna Valtonen, Professor of Strategic Design, the new European Bauhaus is a huge project - its goal is to change both our way of working and our culture on a large scale.
‘New European Bauhaus is entirely a new way of thinking and doing; rethinking of all what we are doing, across all the fields and silos. In the European context it is very radical.’
Valtonen emphasized, that the initiative calls for extensive and multidisciplinary collaboration, which is already largely done at Aalto. ‘We can truly have our say on what we see important in the future. This is a chance to get our great ideas to spread further.’
She encouraged Aalto researchers to actively influence the EU Commission and the topics it takes on its agenda. ‘They’re looking for radical ways of working and calling for multidisciplinary, radical creativity and collaboration.’
Art and design are still underused
In his keynote speech, Matti Kuittinen, Adjunct professor at Aalto University, emphasized the need for change. He noted that the way we construct causes enormous harm and damage to the environment and needs to be changed in order to promote the well-being of the planet.
‘We know we have caused for example the sixth mass extinction and climate change. We also know we need to change our ways to design, construct and maintain. Not in the future, but right now. It doesn’t get any easier while we wait,’ he urges.
He calls for radical new materials for construction. Today, 50 percent of all global raw materials go into construction. And it keeps on increasing.
Kuittinen cites Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s phrase: Less is more. ‘We could reinterpret this phrase: we need to use materials we already have, or reuse them, or use biomaterials,’ states Kuittinen.
Kuittinen brings up a big challenge; the hardest part is making the change and breaking away from our consumption habits. Kuittinen says the change requires us all to let go of certain consumption patterns, and to have mental capacities to deal with this. We should always ask how we can burden the environment and nature as little as possible, and make wise choices.
We could use art and design to ease the transition – which is not easy for any one of us – but it could help avoiding the sixth mass extinction and curving down the climate change
‘We have been trying to solve the problems with technology and engineering. but what we haven’t done yet, is to use the potential of arts, design and creativity.’
The structures of society, but also our way of thinking needs reform
The use of design tools on a systemic level is also emphasized by Associate Professor Idil Gaziulusoy, who spoke about how sustainable transformation can be made in the post-pandemic era.
According to Gaziulusoy, the Covid19 virus has shown the vulnerabilities and structural dysfunctions built in our systems, and the problems related to injustice and inequality have become more visible and recognized. The future we invested in has shifted. We have become aware of the multiplicity of alternative futures opening up. What they have in common is that they emphasize the importance of sustainable design.
‘At the same time, political commitment to addressing climate change and sustainability issues has accelerated,’ Gaziulusoy rejoices. ‘If countries had acted ten years ago, the shift would have been much easier. Today, we have to reduce emissions much more each year, and yet we are short and far away from the target, making the 1,5 Celsius target almost impossible.’
We need new thinking, and here design tools and methods can help us solve problems better than before.
Gaziulusoy is the leader of NODUS research group at Aalto University, that is looking where design can assist in finding ways for better sustainability in the post-pandemic life. They have recognized the weak signals that might be the drivers for sustainable transformations.
Their recent research publication ‘Design for Sustainability Transformations: A Deep Leverage Points research agenda for the post-pandemic context’ offers a research agenda of 24 questions to guide sustainability transformation. Most importantly, they say, we need to focus on reforming social structures and institutions i.e. those that set the values and goals for our entire system and the mindset.